Apocalyptic Theology

The reason I put up the previous post is because it provides background for thinking about how (if? where?) apocayptic does or should function in our theology. I suggest that Käsemann was right–but not in the same way he meant it. He argued that “apocalyptic is the mother of Christian theology” in part to scandalize. Thinkers of his era and before were so used to an instant rejection of apocalyptic that he used the phrase as a shock tactic along the same lines as Schweitzer (i.e., apocalytpic is inherently un-useful for modern theology and thus more historically accurate). Too, he meant the phrase historically–Christian theology came out of apocalyptic thinking.

I’d like to claim the phrase a different way and reinterpret it to mean that apocalyptic lays at the very heart of the Christian message and what it means to be Christian. In recent years because of a growing recognition of the inherent apocalyptic character of both Jesus and Paul modern “liberal” theology has been taking apocalyptic into account, however gingerly. The result is (as I read it–Gaunilo and others, feel free to correct) a more or less ethical system with an overlay of apocalyptic. A more inherently traditional way, I would offer is a more or less apocalyptic system with a overlay of ethics. What does this mean and look like? Here are some initial thoughts:

* The Trinity is an inherently nonrational notion. Trying to apply logical tools to the Godhead and its constituent parts a) doesn’t work; b) has historically lead to a plurality of heresies.
* The Crucifixion and the Resurrection are, to borrow Käsemann ‘s structures, about the cosmic clash of aeons. It *is* about a cosmic war with God and life pitted against Evil–real Evil, the reality of which I’ve asserted and discussed elsewhere on this blog. (And therefore story is a better and often more accurate way to get at theology than ideas and corollaries.)
* The Sacraments are at the center of how we encounter all of this stuff–Baptism and the Eucharist are fundamentally apocalyptic events as–work with the metaphor/sign here–humanity, bread, wine, and being are converted into the aeon of God, heading towards and working towards the ultimate consummation when God is all in all.
* Ethics and morality, then, may live out similarly to those of humanistic liberalism but the logic behind them is totally different. Love of neighbor has nothing to do with the “universal brotherhood of man” but from an apocalyptic Christ embedded in the other as seen in Matt 25 and RB 53.
* Furthermore, the ultimate telos of exercise of virtue is not self-improvement. This from John Cassian, hinself quoting Athanasius quoting St Antony:

…[W]hen a monk is endeavouring after the plan of monastic life to reach the heights of a more advanced perfection, and, having learned the consideration of discretion, is able to arrive at the very summit of the anchorite’s life, he ought by no means to seek for all kinds of virtues from one man however excellent. For one is adorned with flowers of knowledge, another is more strongly fortified with methods of discretion, another is established in the dignity of patience, another excels in the virtue of humility, another in that of continence, another is decked with the grace of simplicity. . . . And therefore the monk who desires to gather spiritual honey, ought like a most careful bee, to suck out virtue from those who specially possess it, and should diligently store it up in the vessel of his own breast; nor should he investigate what any one is lacking in, but only regard and gather whatever virtue he has. For if we want to gain all virtues from some one person, we shall with great difficulty or perhaps never at all find suitable examples for us to imitate. For though we do not as yet see that even Christ is made “all things in all” as the Apostle says; still in this way we can find Him bit by bit in all. For it is said of Him, “Who was made of God to you wisdom and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” While then in one there is found wisdom, in another righteousness, in another sanctification, in another kindness, in another chastity, in another humility, in another patience, Christ is at the present time divided, member by member, among all the saints. But when all come together into the unity of the faith and virtue, He is formed into the “perfect man,” completing the fullness of His body, in the joints and properties of all His members. Institutes 5.4

According to this logic, as monastics–as Christians–grow in virtue they grow into the fullness of Christ and as constituent members of the Body of Christ, they contribute to the eschatological consummation when Christ will be all in all. The quest for virtue is the quest to more fully and completely participate in the life and redemptive work of the Risen Lord.

* My last thought of the day on this rather incoherent association of ideas is just this:

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. Col 1:9-29

So–there are some initial thoughts. The pay-off? Christianity is not reduceable for me to good ethics and reason looking at the world and logically intuiting a Creator. There is more to it than that.

2 thoughts on “Apocalyptic Theology

  1. The Anglican Scotist

    What do you mean when you claim that logic cannot be applied to the dogma of the Trinity? If your interest is in preventing heresy, then you will have to be able to tell when a belief about the Trinity is consistent with dogma and when it is not, and may therefore be heretical.

    But even making this basic distinction between consistent and heretical requires the application of logic. The upshot of the misology you push seems to be a pluralism conducive to a babel of confusion–just what you might be trying to avoid.

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    What I mean is that attempting to parse out where the various members of the Trinity stop and start using the vocabulary of philosophical ontology beyond what the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds establish tends to be unhelpful. What is most clearly revealed in Scripture and in the writings of the earliest Fathers concerning the Trinity is the language of relationship, not ontology–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’d prefer to stick with that. Yes, it’s more narrative, but I think the two aforementioned creeds give us all the philosophy we need (and perhaps more than we need…) to ground things. And yes, I realize that Trinitarian heresies did arise after the completion of the creed commonly referred to as ‘Nicene’ but of all our modern problems facing us in the churches, Trinitarian heresies based on philosophical categories do not seem to me to be one of them.

    Too, I think you were the one who introduced the categories of “consistent”, “heretical”, and established the motive of “preventing heresy”… ;-) While (generally speaking) I’m *against* heresy, I’d rather say that I’m *for* a living encounter with the God known to us through Scripture and Tradition.

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